Quail Lakes & Coal: Energy for Wildlife ... and the World

Quail Lakes & Coal: Energy for Wildlife ... and the World

by Doug Oberhelman


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781481709996
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 01/23/2013
Pages: 158
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.37(d)

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Quail Lakes & Coal

Energy for Wildlife ... And the World
By DOUG OBERHELMAN Diane Oberhelman Jeff Lampe


Copyright © 2013 Doug Oberhelman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4817-0999-6

Chapter One


When Avery Dalton walked into Elmwood Township in 1837, he could not have known how much black gold lay hidden below the gently rolling Illinois grasslands. Though Dalton would live to the ripe old age of 104, he had no way of knowing the land he settled in Peoria County and called Lost Prairie would someday light houses in Wisconsin, produce 200 bushels of corn per acre, attract thousands of geese each winter, and put milk in cereal bowls in Peoria and St. Louis.

Still Dalton believed there was potential when he came west to Illinois. Like so many settlers in the era of Manifest Destiny he arrived with thoughts of a better life. That promise had a magnetic attraction in the 1800s — a time when life was often hard and folks believed there had to be a better living somewhere. Many built a better life. Some perished. Some kept moving, never finding what they were searching for. Dalton was one of the lucky settlers. He came west and found a home and prosperity on the very same property — Section 19 of Elmwood Township — that my wife Diane and I call Quail Lakes.

The landscape that greeted Dalton in western Peoria County was mostly tallgrass prairie with stands of oak-hickory timber snaking along creeks and streams, including a tree-lined tributary of Kickapoo Creek that runs through the northeast corner of Section 19. Prairie chickens were likely common, as were a variety of other grassland birds whose songs we seldom hear today. Ducks and geese of all sorts nested or migrated along the Illinois River — though it is unlikely they lingered at Quail Lakes, since there was very little water on the property in the 1800s.

Dalton also saw and hunted wild turkeys, deer, squirrels, and raccoons — the Big Four of forest wildlife at the time of settlement. He may have encountered an occasional elk or bison wandering past. We know for certain Avery Dalton spent time with Native Americans, as he was said to be fluent in several native tongues and spoke often of dealings with Potawatomi tribe members, some of whom resided near Elmwood in what was then called Kickapoo Grove.

Quail Lakes, or Lost Prairie as the Daltons called it, obviously treated the family well. Once they arrived in 1837, Avery and his wife Delilah (or Delila in some historic records) stayed put for 63 years. After years of wandering as a young man, Avery Dalton seemed happy to find a home. "We moved but once in our lives," Dalton told a newspaper reporter around his 100th birthday, "moved to Lost Prairie and stayed there. Here we reared nine children. We both worked hard. We always had deer in our yard, and at night I heard the wild turkeys gobble. I used to shoot them from my back door. We always had venison."

Reading that made me shake my head at the similarities to my own life. Diane and I still walk out the back door of our cabin at Quail Lakes and hunt. And she is as sure a shot as anyone I've ever hunted with, even after switching from shooting right-handed to shooting left-handed due to a surgery a few years ago. Avery Dalton would have been proud of her. In the fall we can just walk out, go to one of our hunting pits or blinds, and shoot a duck or goose. We can fish right off the dock. Many game and fish species are as plentiful today as they were when Avery was putting food on the table in the 1800s. Like the Daltons, we always have a gun around and we're always ready to harvest something ... and to eat it later.

Dalton carved a living from the land — first as a farmer who raised crops and livestock, later as a coal miner. He and his sons changed the landscape dramatically, plowing under much of the big bluestem prairie that had dominated the area. They cut trees to build fences and to provide fuel to keep warm in winter. They planted corn, oats, hay, and potatoes. They hunted wild game and fished the creeks.

Eventually they tunneled under the prairie to mine coal that warmed their homes and helped fuel the industry of Elmwood, the nearest town. But the Daltons were not the first to use the land. Not by a long shot. There's a perception that settlers ruined what had been a prosaic, perfect, unaltered landscape. That's not true. No question settlers made dramatic changes — and faster than any previous inhabitants. That was true in part because their numbers were so great, as noted by Taoyateduta, a Dakota chief who was quoted by Hanford Lennox Gordon as saying: "The white men are like the locusts when they fly so thick that the whole sky is a snowstorm.... Count your fingers all day long and white men with guns in their hands will come faster than you can count."

But people have always left a mark on the land — dating back to the earliest inhabitants of Illinois. The arrival of settlers was just one part of a 12,000-year timeline of habitation. Like the settlers, native inhabitants of Illinois also made their mark on the landscape. "Every one of them Members of the Dalton family cut and haul logs in the 1800s, a common job for settlers. Photo courtesy of Bruce Howard. changed the land in some way," said Alan Harn, who has studied native populations for more than 50 years as an assistant curator of anthropology at Dickson Mounds Museum near Lewistown, Illinois. "Early on it was very minimal. But as populations began to consolidate and become permanent, they dug big holes in the ground for storage and houses and to bury their dead. They began to make an impact."

Those native inhabitants did not have Cat D9 tractors or huge Bucyrus-Erie draglines, just stone hoes and primitive tools. Still they left a footprint, sometimes larger than you might expect.

Pinning down precise residents of Quail Lakes in the earliest days is nearly impossible. The site has never been surveyed by archaeologists and never will be, since surface mining altered any record of past inhabitants. Thanks to research by historians at the Illinois State Museum and Dickson Mounds Museum, we can offer a rough sketch of likely inhabitants. Thanks to the historians we know that Paleo-Indians were the first to live in Illinois and arrived at the close of the last Ice Age — a time when glaciers were gone and Illinois was almost completely covered by spruce forests.

As the climate grew warmer over the next few thousand years spruces gave way to hardwood forests of ash, oak, elm, maple, birch, and hickory. Mastodons that once roamed the state became extinct. In their place, state historians said animals we still see today began to emerge, including whitetail deer, wolf, wild turkey, raccoon, and a host of riverine animals. Paleo-Indians were hunter-gatherers and their settlements can be found across Illinois. While prehistoric people were in and out of the Peoria area for centuries, Harn said there is no evidence of a large population center until a fortified village with perhaps 200 inhabitants was built in the middle 1200s at the mouth of Ten Mile Creek — about 25 miles southeast of Quail Lakes as the crow flies.

The next major change on the Illinois landscape came about 7,000 to 8,000 years ago as prairie plants began to thrive thanks to an increasingly warmer, drier climate. Some forest and marsh remained. But in the uplands, in the river bottoms, and on the flat black plains, prairie took over — tall grasses and wildflowers that spread as far as the eye could see. Those same plants also gained a foothold at Quail Lakes.

Along with the changing landscape came changes for residents. Harn and other state archaeologists term the new period of Native American culture Archaic and divide it into three sub-periods: Early (10,000 to 8,000 years ago), Middle (8,000 to 5,000 years ago), and Late Archaic (5,000 to 3,000 years ago).

Early Archaic residents were hunters and gatherers and were widely dispersed over a landscape still dominated by forest. As climate shifted and prairie spread, new resources became available and Middle Archaic people began to build permanent housing and to settle in small villages. By Late Archaic times, populations were cultivating native plants along with an early variety of gourd-like squash to supplement what they continued to hunt and gather. They also learned to live with the grass and to make the most of the wildlife that roamed the prairie.

Change came again for the next inhabitants of Illinois, the Woodland people. They lived between 800 and 3,000 years ago and, like the miners who would follow years later, the Woodland people were diggers. Their goal was not to gather coal for fires, but rather to dig pits for cooking and storage and to bury the dead. The Woodland people were the first of the Mound Builders and are credited with creating numerous burial mounds. Along with these mortuary sites, impressive ceremonial mounds appeared along major Illinois river valleys when the Mississippian culture held sway across the state from about 550 to 1,100 years ago.

Like Diane and me, these earliest indigenous residents turned to the land to grow corn in areas that were most easily tilled. Mound Builders also established extensive settlements, often along rivers. The largest Mississippian settlement in Illinois was Cahokia near present-day Collinsville, a prehistoric metropolis that covered some seven square miles.

The Mississippian people present an interesting insight into land use by Native Americans. For some time, archaeologists believed there were seven Mississippian villages at the same time along the Illinois River. "For years we thought there were populations of maybe 5,000, 6,000 or 7,000 people here in the valley [at that time]," Harn explained. But as he did more digging and studied surface details from the seven sites, Harn made a startling discovery. The Mississippian people had stayed in one location until they fouled their nest, killed the wild game nearby, and exhausted easily accessible wood and resources. Then the villagers packed up and moved.

"In the end it was simply a continuum of occupation by the same basic group. As populations wore out the soil, killed off the game and wore out the environment, everybody picked up lock stock and barrel and moved 12-15 miles and they were in a new Utopia that was untapped," Harn observed. "Indians were terrible conservationists. The longest they stayed was 60-70 years. Most [villages] lasted 30-50 years."

Although it's probable some Mound Builders spent time at Quail Lakes, no burial mounds have been found on the property. There are several in the surrounding area, though. People of the Woodland culture likely created a series of mounds in Millbrook Township in northwest Peoria County, roughly 15 miles north of Quail Lakes. Another settlement inhabited by both Archaic and Woodland cultures was found 2.5 miles northeast of Quail Lakes on a bluff overlooking Kickapoo Creek. Other smaller caches of arrowheads, axe heads, and pottery have also been found near Quail Lakes, but were not reported to state archaeologists.

The next native Illinoisans are termed Protohistoric. These people had ties to the Upper Mississippian and Oneota groups occupying northern Illinois, but they were more transient with smaller, less urban communities. They lived at a time termed the "Little Ice Age" that brought more snow and colder winters for nearly 300 years.

While bison are known to have been present in Illinois for nearly 2,400 years, scientists believe the big mammals became more common at this time. The same may have been true for elk. It's hard for me to imagine bison grazing across our Quail Lakes property. But that's not only possible, it is probable. And there can be little doubt Protohistoric people also visited Quail Lakes before they passed with barely a trace into the mists of time.

Sometime in the 1600s, tribes of the Illiniwek Confederation — an amalgamation of as many as 13 Native American tribes — first occupied large sections of central and northern Illinois. This is the Historic Period of native inhabitation, ranging from the 1500s to 1832. In central Illinois members of the confederation found a landscape of prairies and forests. Through the middle ran the Illinois River — whose fertile backwaters provided an abundance of fish and game.

Harn said the Illinois tribes may have been in this area for only a few generations before meeting French explorers in 1673. Most tribes lived in bark-covered, pole-frame log houses in villages they established in spring and summer along rivers. And they used the land. Starting prairie fires was a common practice when hunting bison — or when preparing for war with a rival tribe. Trees were cut for homes and fires. Animals fell to the bow. Land was tilled for crops.

This was the scene that greeted French missionary Pere Jacques Marquette and his fur trader companion Louis Jolliet when they paddled birch-bark canoes up the Illinois River in August and September of 1673. According to their account (a comprehensive version of which is available through the Wisconsin Historical Society), the explorers saw an Indian village on a hill and stopped, pulling their canoes to shore and drawing a crowd of natives. As far as we know, this marked the first time white Europeans met face to face with non-white natives on land that is today Illinois.

To prepare for such a moment, Marquette and Jolliet had brought cheap knives and trinkets to share with natives — a wise decision since the finery helped break the ice. Explorers came to Illinois to traverse the unsettled territory from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. Working for King Louis XIV of France they hoped to document for French and Canadian officials what they found. They did a wonderful job. Jolliet wrote of the Illinois River:

The river which we named for Saint Louis, which rises near the lower end of the lake of the Illinois [Peoria Lakes], seemed to me the most beautiful, and most suitable for settlement. ... The river is wide and deep, abounding in catfish and sturgeon. Game is abundant there; oxen, cows, stags, does, and turkeys are found there in greater numbers than elsewhere. For a distance of eighty leagues, I did not pass a quarter of an hour without seeing some.

There are prairies three, six, ten, and 20 leagues in length, and three in width, surrounded by forests of the same extent; beyond these, the prairies begin again, so that there is as much of one sort of land as of the other. Sometimes we saw the grass very short, and, at other times, five or six feet high; hemp, which grows naturally there, reaches a height of eight feet. A settler would not there spend ten years in cutting down and burning the trees; on the very day of his arrival, he could put his plow into the ground. And, if he had no oxen from France, he could use those of this country, or even the animals possessed by the Western Savages, on which they ride, as we do on horses.

Added Marquette:

We have seen nothing like this river [the Illinois River] that we enter, as regards its fertility of soil, its prairies and woods; its cattle, elk, deer, wildcats, bustards [Canada geese], swans, ducks, parroquets, and even beaver. There are many small lakes and rivers. That on which we sailed is wide, deep, and still, for 65 leagues.

The "parroquets" Marquette referred to were the now-extinct Carolina parakeet. Jolliet's oxen were actually bison that he envisioned settlers yoking to the plow. The "Western Savages" Marquette and Jolliet encountered were those of the Illiniwek Confederation. As history has it, the Illini (or Illinois) — which means "the men" — took possession of the state after driving out Sioux tribes and forcing the Winnebagos north. This gave the Illini possession of the rich prairies of central Illinois. Prevalent tribes in central Illinois included the Peoria, Kaskaskia, and Moingwena.

The Illini are thought to have numbered in the thousands at the time of European settlement in the 1700s according to research by Dr. Robert Warren, an anthropologist at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield and an authority on the Illinois Indians. For the most part the Illini were expert hunters, skilled with bow and arrow. And they were very nomadic. In the spring they planted crops — corn, beans, squash, and even watermelons — and established large villages. They lived in log houses. By fall they scattered to establish smaller winter villages, with smaller log houses that were more dome-shaped like wigwams. Too many people in one area made it hard to find enough game, a staple in the winter.

From 1691 to 1720, most of the Illini moved from the Starved Rock area down the Illinois River to the Peoria area. Here they found abundant fish and game and fine ground to grow crops. But the Illini did not hold sway for long over the state they named. European settlers arrived in the east and displaced tribes. As a result, members of some eastern Iroquois tribes moved west and battled the Illini. Other fights raged for years, with Sioux, Foxes, Kickapoo, Potawatomi, and other northern tribes a constant threat to the Illiniwek, who had been weakened by battles with the Iroquois.


Excerpted from Quail Lakes & Coal by DOUG OBERHELMAN Diane Oberhelman Jeff Lampe Copyright © 2013 by Doug Oberhelman. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Foreword One Greg Boyce....................7
Foreword Two Dale Hall....................9
Foreword Three German Larrea....................11
Map of Quail Lakes....................17
Chapter 1 Settling the Land of Black Gold....................23
Chapter 2 Illinois Mining Comes of Age....................47
Chapter 3 Mining at Quail Lakes....................67
Chapter 4 We Can Reclaim It....................85
Chapter 5 The Wildlife Responds....................105
Chapter 6 From Wasteland to Wonderland....................127
Chapter 7 The Coal Solution....................141
End Notes and Bibliography....................151

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